Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Some thought concerning a rapidly emerging internet of things 4: the active and interactively connected home of the future, and the home SCADA network

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on June 7, 2013

This is my fourth posting to a series on a rapidly emerging new level of online involvement and connectedness: the internet of things (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2, postings 211 and loosely following for Parts 1-3.) I have also recently been at least touching on aspects of this topic area in other series of postings too, and in that regard I cite:

Information systems security and the ongoing consequences of always being reactive – 16: the internet of things and the emergence of next generation DDoS attacks, where I discuss the need to develop these systems with active security capabilities in place from the beginning, and
Commoditizing the standardized, commoditizing the individually customized 6: post-assembly line production and the emergence of a new personalized production capability 2 where I outline how elements of such a system might be custom manufactured through new and emerging personalized automated production processes.

Shifting back to this series, I began a more detailed, systematic discussion of networks of things in:

Part 2 where I focused on devices that would constitute passive networking nodes, externally tracked, and
Part 3 where I began a formal discussion of active nodes and the networking of devices that enter into two-way communicative interaction and with a bidirectional and even multi-directional sharing of information.

My goal for Part 3 was to more abstractly outline some of the basic parameters and considerations that would go into defining and functionally specifying such an active-node network. My goal for this posting is to continue that discussion through analysis of real world examples. And the first example that I would raise and discuss is the smart home of the future. And for that, I begin with the specific case study example that I raised in my above noted posting on personalized automated production: a networked approach to automating how potted houseplants could be watered and managed by networked sensors and watering devices, and supporting technology – with essentially all of the necessary systems components required for that currently available for purchase and use now.

The example that I cited was primarily built around a single option to single option functional progression.

• A single, multi-function sensor was cited which I identified as being able to simultaneously track and monitor soil moisture level, sunlight exposure for the plants in that pot and the levels of certain key plant nutrients. Nitrate and phosphate levels are choices that most gardeners would see as important there, but in principle this type of sensor could be developed so as to monitor a wide range of chemical constituents in the soil (e.g. selenium). And as a more obvious addition, it would be relatively easy to build in a pH monitoring capability for tracking soil acidity and alkalinity too. But here and for this discussion, the salient feature of this model is that all initial raw data collected is gathered from a single sensor and that this sensor monitors soil moisture for keeping plants correctly watered.
• This data is gathered and then transmitted on through a single channel, which could mean wired or wireless,
• And that channel goes to a single command and control node which could be a computer with a home Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) software package in place for monitoring and managing a list of household task management processes, plant watering included, or this could mean signaling to a person for human intervention, for example via tweets to a smart phone indicating what plants need watering and when they do. But in this example, there was one mechanism and option in place there too.
• And if a decision is made to water a plant it would be sent through a single supported and allowed channel back to a watering system network node that would provide an amount of water specified by the automated SCADA systems software-based (or human) controller decision making process.
• And to complete this loop, the sensor that initially found a pot’s soil to be too dry would re-monitor after water added has had time to diffuse into the soil for an accurate reading, and this process would be repeated if still needed.

This is a simple situation where a single option per node pathway might be more than sufficient, but for many systems, redundancies and pathway alternatives would be developed and put in place, and for due diligence and risk remediation purposes if nothing else. So returning to my all but cartoon-like plant watering example, connection lines could be hardwired via twisted pair copper wires or by coaxial cable and wireless connectivity could be maintained via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, to note two possibilities for each but only one of these four would in all likelihood be in place. My overall point here is that for critical systems:

• Redundancies and technology alternatives are built in to increase assurance of continuity of service and to help identify and bypass networking bottlenecks or breakdowns.
• My household example might not require or justify that level of complexity and expense but industrial and other large scale infrastructure systems almost always do, and with capacity built in to identify and bypass spurious or garbled signals or broken connections.
• In that, the basic technology behind the internet as a whole offers significant value, but as a known target it also offers significant vulnerabilities too.
• The type of executive oversight that I begin to discuss here, for complex systems would almost always call for automated artificial intelligence monitoring to manage what can become a vast flow of signals traffic, requiring very rapid and time-sensitive responses. But human oversight would also be needed, with that automatically invoked when established overall functionality parameters were in danger of being violated or exceeded.

While a simple home SCADA-based active node network might be limited, it does incorporate in many of the basic elements that would go into a larger and more complex, and more mission-critical system. And the additional complexities that they would require can be conceptually added into these simpler conceptual models, for much of what could be added.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will more fully explore complex active node networks, and SCADA systems designed to manage and proactively operate complex infrastructure systems. And in anticipation of that, I will at least begin a discussion of emergent systems requirements – systems complexities that do not simply arise as direct extrapolations from simpler network systems components and configurations. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its continuation page, and at Social Networking and Business.

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